Johnston High School football player a star on both the field and stage

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JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — When Johnston High School football player Joey Acciardo took to the field Thanksgiving morning, he never expected he would leave a viral sensation.

The Panthers were just inches away from scoring their first touchdown of the game against Pilgrim High School when Joey’s father, Johnston head coach Joe Acciardo, came up with an idea.

Since it was the team’s last game of the season, Joe told the Panthers they were going to perform a trick play they’d been working on throughout the season.

Even though that trick play had never worked when they practiced it, Joe remained optimistic.

As the Panthers lined up for their next drive, Joey provided the ultimate distraction.

The 18-year-old wide receiver performed several front flips behind the offensive line right before the ball was snapped. At the same time, the Panthers pushed their way past Patriot’s defense and into the end zone with a quarterback sneak.

The successful trick play was caught on camera and posted to social media. The video has since gone viral, which is something neither Joey nor his father ever expected.

“This is crazy,” Joe said. “We’ve never had anything like that ever happen before.”

And there’s more to Joey than just his ability to do several front flips in a helmet and pads.

Joey said he learned how to dance at his mother’s Johnston dance studio.

“My mom owned this studio before I was even born,” Joey explained. “So, once I was able to walk, I was always with my mom here.”

“I like performing in front of people, I like entertaining them,” he continued. “I like dancing just because it’s fun for me.”

Joey did his first backflip when he was only 5 years old, and his resume since then includes dancing alongside Justin Bieber and in front of Jennifer Lopez.

But it was a solo performance early in Joey’s dancing career that captured the heart of his biggest fan: his father.

“I had a Rocky solo,” Joey recalled. “My dad was going through chemotherapy, he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and his favorite movie was Rocky, so while he was in the hospital … my mom got all these Rocky movies together and mashed it up and I did a solo.”

Joe said while his battle with cancer was extremely trying, Joey is the reason he never gave up.

“It caught me off guard, it was tough,” Joe said of the diagnosis. “You know, you’re an adult and it’s a tough time you’re going through, but when I looked at him … it just killed me to think he was going to be fatherless.”

“That’s what gave me strength,” he continued. “I just couldn’t imagine him without a dad.”

Joe said it was his son’s Rocky performance that helped him beat cancer.

“He had the little black eye … with the robe,” he recalled. “He did the routine and it was unbelievable.”

“It was definitely hard, me being so young and so close to my dad,” Joey added. “It was a very emotional solo to do. He would watch it and he would know it was for him.”

Joey described his father as his best friend, and someone he couldn’t imagine living without.

“Luckily my dad fought it off,” he said. “I luckily still get to be with him today.”

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